Lawmakers request hearings on information tech projects

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The Senate Committee on Institutions intends to hold hearings with the Shumlin administration every other week until the panel's members receive the information they are seeking about major information technology projects.

The committee has been seeking information on how much the state has spent in the past year on an IT project called integrated eligibility, a major piece of a $771 million suite of programs that would help Vermonters find out instantly through a website whether they are eligible for 43 state benefits programs.

The Shumlin administration spent months in negotiations with a contractor to start building the integrated eligibility project and another called the Medicaid management information system. In February, the Agency of Human Services announced it would cancel procurement on both IT projects and start over.

A Vermont Enterprise Project Management Office report published Jan. 19 said the Shumlin administration had spent $39.2 million in federal money and $3.9 million in state money on the integrated eligibility project so far. The report said an independent review on integrated eligibility started Oct. 27 and was on schedule to be completed by Jan. 28.

Sen. Peg Flory, R-Rutland, the chair of Senate Institutions, is now seeking to find out how the Shumlin administration used another $5.4 million in money allocated from the fiscal year 2016 capital bill. She called herself "impatient" and "frustrated" at a hearing Wednesday, where she said the administration has canceled its testimony in her committee twice.

The Legislature passes a capital bill every two years to pay for bonded projects such as prisons and state office buildings. During the years it does not pass a full capital bill, the Legislature passes an update and has the authority to defund projects, including any money previously promised to integrated eligibility.

In 2015, the Shumlin administration requested $16 million for the two-year bill, and the House Corrections and Institutions Committee cut that funding in half. Flory said in an interview that the Legislature cut the requested funding after the committee found out the Agency of Human Services had other money "in its kitty" to pay for integrated eligibility.

"My basic question is the same question that I asked them last year, (and) I ask everybody on IT," Flory said in the interview. "Why do you need it? What does it do? What's the total cost? What's the annual operating cost? What's the life expectancy? And how are you going to measure success?"

She said the committee is also asking the following: "How much have you spent so far? Where did it go? During the last year, what have you spent on it? And how much money, if in fact you've got some money set aside for IT, how much do you have and where did it come from?"

At a Senate Institutions hearing Wednesday, Flory told Human Services Secretary Hal Cohen that her committee would not allocate any money for the projects if the Shumlin administration can't answer the committee's questions. A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday at 2 p.m. She said hearings would continue every other week at 1:15 p.m.

John Stern, the deputy chief information officer for the Agency of Human Services, said it "would be great" to meet with the committee again. VTDigger reached out to Cohen's assistant, Dean Mudgett, who said in an email that questions would be answered Tuesday.

Said Flory: "If we seem a little impatient, and a little frustrated, we are."


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